The San Francisco 49ers continue to look for every edge they can find, announcing the hiring of Dr. Fergus Connolly as Director of Elite Performance. In this role, Dr. Connolly will "work intimately with football operations to develop innovative sports and performance science practices geared towards player welfare and performance optimization."
What does that mean? Well, from what I've been able to find, it's about optimizing player performance on the field, keeping them healthy, and helping them get back as reasonably quick as possible when they do suffer injuries. While it does not go into specifics, I could see this ranging from figuring out improved ways to track a player's physical well-being during games and practice, improving a nutritional protocol, and providing insight into the best ways to rehab from an injury.
In doing some research on Connolly, I came across an Irish Times article discussing the impending move on May 29. His boss with the Dublin Gaelic Football team seems to think he would be able to continue working with them, but the article also says Connolly is taking on a full-time role with the 49ers.
My favorite discovery is this report that he and an assistant coach with Welsh Rugby Football Union were disciplined for getting in a fight over the singing of an Irish folk song. There are a few more details in this Telegraph article. That fight aside, Connolly seems to be pretty renowned in the world of sports science. He's written extensively on the topic, and I might have to spend some of June and July reading through some of his work.
From the 49ers press release, we got his basic resume:
Degrees: Manual Therapy (Institute of Physical Therapy, Dublin); PhD in computer integration-based optimization (University of Limerick)
Work Experience (approximated to some extent)
2011-2014: Performance consultant, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, New York Knicks, English Premier League, Professional Rugby
2008-2011: Welsh Rugby Union (Cardiff, UK)
2007-2008: Strength & Conditioning Coach, Bolton Wanderers FC (Premier League)
Most recently, he did a brief 10-day consulting job with the Greater Western Sydney Giants of the Australian rules football league. He was brought in to observe and prepare a report on the team's training program and personnel. That would appear to be his final job before traveling to join the 49ers.
I did some digging and here are some links to help you get a better idea of what he can do and how he views his work:
Champions secret weapon - September 29, 2013
Notes from Fergus Connolly: Performance Optimisation in Elite Team Sport – The Art of Science - April 2, 2013
Fergus Connolly: The Unconventional Fixer - February 28, 2012
The Art of Science speech - November 27, 2011
This kind of addition is not remotely surprising. Teams are looking for every edge they can find, and the 49ers have been as aggressive as anybody. The team has worked with Stanford University in the past when it comes to developing ways to track player performance and health. One example came last year at Super Bowl 47, when I got to try out a cooling system the 49ers use. Another example is the 49ers work with SAP (a Founding Partner at Levi's Stadium) to improve the scouting database they use to prepare for the NFL Draft.
This addition follows in that vein, and is something other teams have done. As we saw above, Connolly has worked with several other teams in some capacity. Teams have brought in guys as consultants, but the 49ers join a smaller group that is looking at these guys in full-time roles. Another example would be the Philadelphia Eagles. When Chip Kelly joined the team, he hired Shaun Huls as sports science coordinator. Huls previously worked as a performance coach for the Navy SEALs. You can read more about him HERE.
Connolly's job is one that will remain under the radar for the most part, but it's still fascinating to ponder what he could bring to the team. Paraag Marathe has spoken about how injury issues are one of the more untapped areas of advanced study. The team has certain processes in place to rehab players, but truly understanding the nature of injuries and in turn being able to both rehab more efficiently and put players in a position to avoid injuries. It means being able to analyze the health of your players in the middle of a game or practice to know if you have a guy who should probably be replaced for a player to get a breather. If a player is too stubborn to tell a coach he needs a breather, advanced study and various technological advances could help the team figure it out without having to rely on a player telling them. Given the depth of this 49ers team, that kind of thing can prove incredibly valuable.